The Garden Route is a popular destination for Cape Town golfers, and one of the more unusual attractions for tour groups heading that way is a stopover at Heidelberg Golf Club on the N2, not just for a late breakfast, but to try and “Ring the Bell.”
Heidelberg has a 9-hole course with roughly 75 members (affiliated to Southern Cape), and to help raise funds for the club a novel challenge was instituted in 2015 and continues to this day. In the middle of the first fairway is an inverted L-shaped wooden sleeper structure about three metres high from which hangs a medium-size bell. You can touch the bell as you walk underneath it.
The bell was sourced in Johannesburg by current vice-captain Nico Steyn, and a plaque on the frame reveals that it’s named the Peter Wiltman Hoffman Bell, in memory of a former club president who was a stalwart of the club for many years.
The challenge is a simple one. Ring the bell with an accurately struck golf ball from 150 metres out and you win R10 000. However, it’s such a difficult target to strike that it makes having a hole-in-one seem relatively easy by comparison. The fact that the bell has only been rung twice in nearly eight years says it all. There have been thousands of attempts.
The first time it happened was early on, in December 2016 when the prize was a more lucrative R30 000. In those days the prize was insured, but after that payout the insurance company doubled the cost of the annual policy. So the club now funds the prize. The challenge is monitored by a camera.
To have a chance of winning, the entry fee is R100 for 10 balls, to be struck from a designated teeing mat in front of the clubhouse. Stiaan Herbst (Oubaai) was determined to give it his best shot, so he paid R1 000 for 100 balls, and then spent the next 45 minutes trying to get lucky. With the balls running out he went to a 9-iron and heard the sweet golden chime of the bell.
The golf club no longer allows one person to hog the tee. After hitting 10 balls you must give way to the next challenger. Every golfer playing the course and paying a green fee gets one free hit at the bell with their opening tee shot on this par 4. But you can only win the prize if the ball hits the bell without first bouncing on the fairway.
Hitting an iron from 150 metres means you have to perfectly judge the downward trajectory of the ball to make contact with the bell. Many golfers prefer to hit a longer club, often a hybrid, with a lower trajectory that doesn’t lose any height.
That worked for the latest winner in December 2022. A tour group heading to or from the Garden Route stopped at the club for a round, and after a few refreshments in the 19th hole decided to take on the challenge, each of them buying 10 balls. Jacobus Bailey from Worcester Golf Club delighted his tour mates (view video) when a low-struck 3-wood produced the perfect shot.
Sunshine tour pro George Coetzee once stopped at Heidelberg to try his luck, but after a few close calls had to admit defeat.
“We are very proud of our golf club which has a long history within the Heidelberg community,” says Nico Steyn. “We’ve worked hard at improving the layout and getting it in good condition.
“The bell challenge is popular with tour groups, and during the year we get buses pulling into the club with golfers to try their luck. On club competition days there is not much interest among members. But on sponsored days, or big events, it’s part of the fun of the day to have a go. It has become a wonderful fundraiser for our small club and helped raise our profile.”